New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
DOI 10.1007/s11056-015-9504-6
Considerations for restoring temperate forests
of tomorrow: forest restoration, assisted migration,
and bioengineering
R. Kasten Dumroese1 • Mary I. Williams2 • John A. Stanturf3
J. Bradley St. Clair4
Received: 17 December 2014 / Accepted: 20 July 2015 / Published online: 2 August 2015
Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht(outside the USA) 2015
Abstract Tomorrow’s forests face extreme pressures from contemporary climate change,
invasive pests, and anthropogenic demands for other land uses. These pressures, collectively, demand land managers to reassess current and potential forest management practices. We discuss three considerations, functional restoration, assisted migration, and
bioengineering, which are currently being debated in the literature and have the potential to
be applied independently or concurrently across a variety of scales. The emphasis of
functional restoration is to reestablish or maintain functions provided by the forest
ecosystem, such as water quality, wildlife habitat, or carbon sequestration. Maintaining
function may call upon actions such as assisted migration—moving tree populations within
a species current range to aid adaptation to climate change or moving a species far outside
its current range to avoid extinction—and we attempt to synthesize an array of assisted
migration terminology. In addition, maintenance of species and the functions they provide
may also require new technologies, such as genetic engineering, which, compared with
traditional approaches to breeding for pest resistance, may be accomplished more rapidly
to meet and overcome the challenges of invasive insect and disease pests. As managers
develop holistic adaptive strategies to current and future anthropogenic stresses, functional
restoration, assisted migration, and bioengineering, either separately or in combinations,
deserve consideration, but must be addressed within the context of the restoration goal.
& R. Kasten Dumroese
[email protected]
Grassland, Shrubland, and Desert Ecosystems, Rocky Mountain Research Station, U.S. Forest
Service, Moscow, ID, USA
School of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences, Michigan Technological University,
Houghton, MI, USA
Center for Forest Disturbance Science, Southern Research Station, U.S. Forest Service, Athens,
Land and Watershed Management, Pacific Northwest Research Station, U.S. Forest Service,
Corvallis, OR, USA
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
Keywords Functional restoration Assisted migration Bioengineering Climate
change Forest management
Tomorrow’s forests are under extreme pressures from anthropogenic activities. Anticipated
(and unanticipated) changes to forested landscapes will require land managers to consider a
broad range of management options, some of which are perceived controversial by some
because they often challenge current forest restoration paradigms (Stanturf et al. 2014a). In
this paper, our objective is to present some of the challenges that managers of temperate
forests are facing and examine three potential management actions (functional restoration,
assisted migration, bioengineering) that have been the recent focus of reviews (functional
restoration: Stanturf et al. 2014a; assisted migration: Williams and Dumroese 2013) or
restoration models (Jacobs et al. 2013) and that managers may possibly use to mitigate
these adverse effects on tomorrow’s forests. We discuss how they are justified and how
they might be applied depending on the context of the restoration, either independently or
concurrently at the same or different scales. In addition, we provide an example of how
these concepts could be considered and applied within a contemporary restoration scenario.
During the past three centuries, the planet has undergone dramatic anthropogenic changes
(Ellis 2011) and this trend continues. The current annual rate of forest conversion (deforestation) is estimated at 13 million ha per year (FAO 2010). Perhaps more insidious,
however, is the chronic degradation of forests, where the addition of new disturbances
leads to loss of biodiversity that reduces ecosystem response to perturbations, destabilizes
the system, and ultimately leads to a loss of function (Hooper et al. 2005). Therefore, a
chief challenge to forestland managers is conserving genetic resources within and among
species (St. Clair and Howe 2011) on the world’s 2 billion ha of degraded forests (Minnemayer et al. 2011).
Forest degradation has causes that vary by biome and social governance structures. In
the tropics, exploitive logging and agricultural encroachment are primary drivers whereas
in temperate forests many biotic and abiotic stressors are involved, including fire suppression and invasive pests. Climate change, in terms of higher temperatures, altered
precipitation, and more frequent extreme events are global threats to forests. Projections
that estimate the world population will increase from its current 7 billion to between 9.7
and 12.5 billion by the end of this century (Fig. 1) indicate the largest population gains will
be coincidental where forests are abundant (United Nations 2012). Commensurate with
population growth is the expansion of international trade, which has increased 27-fold
during the past 65 years (WTO 2014). Globally, areas with high human activity and
international trade tend to host more invasive forest pests (Roy et al. 2014). Indeed, the
numbers of nonindigenous insects and diseases introduced into forests in North America
and Europe have increased dramatically during the past century (Fig. 1) and some pests
have caused considerable damage to tree species (Aukema et al. 2010; Santini et al. 2013).
In the temperate forests of southwest Australia, a single introduced species, Phytophthora
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
Fig. 1 Since 1880, global population (a Goldewijk 2005), world trade (b WTO 2014), and the number of
introductions of fungal pathogens into Europe (c Santini et al. 2013) and insects and diseases into the U.S.A.
(d Aukema et al. 2010) have all increased exponentially, putting extreme pressure on the world’s forests
cinnamomi, is infesting native trees, causing significant direct and indirect changes to the
ecosystem and pushing several rare taxa to extinction (Shearer et al. 2007). This same
pathogen, introduced into southern Europe, is responsible for the decline of Quercus
species (Brasier 1996). In the U.S., an average of 2.5 new pests arrives annually, with a
high impact pest arriving every other year (Aukema et al. 2010). Worldwide, the number of
such introductions is expected to climb (Fisher et al. 2012).
Changes in climate are increasing the likelihood, frequency, and intensity of extreme
weather events, such as heat waves, cold snaps, floods, and drought (Walsh et al. 2013).
Where forests remain, many tree species and populations may not be able to adapt or
migrate fast enough to changes in climate (Zhu et al. 2012; Gray and Hamann 2013).
Climate projections indicate trees must migrate more than 3000 m per year, far exceeding
their observed annual rates of less than 500 m (Davis and Shaw 2001; Aitken et al. 2008).
In North America, populations are already lagging 130 km in latitude, or 60 m in elevation, behind their optimal climate niche (Gray and Hamann 2013). Although less fragmented forests are thought to have an advantage in keeping pace with climate change
(Loarie et al. 2009), climate change-induced forest mortality caused by heat and drought
may already be a global phenomenon (Allen et al. 2010). Heat waves will be a common
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
occurrence (Karl et al. 2008) contributing to drought and wildfires (Trenberth 2011).
Planting the standard species in regions highly sensitive to climate change may be
unwarranted (Hebda 2008), given that reductions in fire frequency from 100–300 years to
30 years, for example, have the potential to quickly shift some North American forest
systems to woodlands and grasslands (Westerling et al. 2011), thereby reducing the
availability of genetic resources needed to adapt or move. Furthermore, forest pests may be
encouraged by shifts in climate (both by more favorable conditions for the pest and less
favorable conditions for tree growth) resulting in landscape-scale tree mortality (Logan
et al. 2003; Lindner et al. 2010). By 2100, an estimated 55 % of landscapes in the western
U.S. may exhibit climates that are incompatible with vegetation occurring there today
(Rehfeldt et al. 2006); similar scenarios are possible for Europe (Lindner et al. 2010) and
these changes are projected to have severe economic consequences (Hanewinkel et al.
Climate change effects might be so abrupt that management options will be limited,
even within a species’ current range. Notwithstanding, plant survival may be determined
more by availability of suitable recipient ecosystems (Aubin et al. 2011), the existence of
landscape connections needed for plants to move (Hannah 2008), and the intensity of insect
outbreaks (Logan et al. 2003; Bentz et al. 2010). Outbreaks of Dendroctonus ponderosae
(Coleoptera: Curculiondae) in Pinus contorta forests, for example, are accelerated by
warm temperatures and low precipitation to such an extent that even changes in management cannot curtail its impact (Regniere and Bentz 2008). Similarly, increases in the
activity of insects and diseases are predicted for Europe’s temperate mountain ranges
(Lindner et al. 2010). Even for forests projected to have increased productivity under future
climate (Lindner et al. 2010), anthropogenic disturbance is expected to increase (Ellis
Meeting the challenges
Functional restoration strives to bring back or improve a condition in which the regular
function(s) that contribute to a forested system are present (see review by Stanturf et al.
2014a). A defining feature of functional restoration is its focus on what a forest provides
rather than on what particular species compositions and structures formerly were present.
This may involve redirecting existing human-altered forests to a more useful composition
or structure through typical silvicultural treatments (e.g., thinning, reintroducing natural
fire regimes, or interplanting desired species), or more strident treatments, such as those
found on drastically altered sites resulting from resource extraction (e.g., mining or petroleum production). Although a late seral, complex structure and its functions are often the
restoration goal (Stanturf et al. 2014b), maintaining specific functions may require maintaining or moving a forest toward an earlier, open, seral structure. The emphasis of
functional restoration is that a change in condition to ensure function is more important
than matching an historical reference condition—function, rather than legacy or integrity
of a former forest stand condition defines success. And the value of each function, and the
restoration effort to achieve it, is driven by societal as well as biological criteria (Stanturf
et al. 2014a).
Strategies used to address functional restoration can be rehabilitation, reconstruction,
reclamation, or replacement (Stanturf et al. 2014b). Reviewed in Stanturf et al. (2014b),
these terms, while not used with consensus, logically reflect the level of restoration
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
required across a continuum from low to severe degradation. Functional restoration can be
achieved using a variety of silvicultural treatments at various scales.
Although restoring to a legacy or reference condition is not a tenet of functional
restoration, restoring ecosystem function based on an understanding of contemporary
reference conditions is a viable starting point for maintaining response options that
facilitate the transition of forests to future climate conditions (Millar et al. 2007). On
one hand, it may be that minor species in the forest may become more prominent. For
example, Acer rubrum occurs in many current forest ecosystems of the Great Lakes
region in North America, but generally at low abundance (e.g., Seymour 1992); climate
niche-models, however, predict increasing habitat suitability and importance under even
the most extreme emissions scenarios (Iverson et al. 2004). Thus, employing silvicultural treatments that ensure a currently minor species such as A. rubrum continues to be
present in ecosystems where it occurs naturally can help transition forests to future
conditions. On the other hand, maintaining forest function may require replacement of
the native genotypes of a species with those more adapted to the future climate (e.g.,
assisted population migration; see Fig. 3; see Williams and Dumroese 2013; Stanturf
et al. 2014a). Classic silvicultural methods and assisted migration build on the dynamic
properties of forest ecosystems to maintain function and provide capacity to adapt
favorably to future climates. Clearly, forest species change locations and in their
abundance on the landscape in response to changing climate; movement can be long
distance (Ohlemüller et al. 2012) or relative to aspect (Millar et al. 2006) and may
occur in unfamiliar ways in the future, highlighting the ever-important need for management strategies that are not founded on maintaining the status quo (Moritz and
Agudo 2013).
Assisted migration, the intentional movement of species or populations in response to
observed or anticipated climate change (Fig. 2) (Ste-Marie et al. 2011), might be a valuable tool for rare, long-lived, and locally adapted species and populations, especially those
threatened by fragmentation and pathogens and with limited adaptation and migration
capacities (St. Clair and Howe 2011; Erickson et al. 2012). As discussed earlier, native
populations adapted to sites under current climate may become maladapted as changes in
climate occur. Assisted migration may be used to ensure adapted populations by countering
two limitations of tree migration: long generation cycles and reduced dispersal ability
(Potter and Hargrove 2012). Assisted migration can be applied at different scales,
including moving populations within a species’ current range, beyond a species’ range
proximate a current distribution, or long distances outside its current range (Fig. 3) (SteMarie et al. 2011; Winder et al. 2011; Williams and Dumroese 2013). In addition,
movements can be geographic (e.g., distance along an elevation gradient), climatic (e.g.,
change in number of frost-free days along an elevation gradient), and/or temporal (e.g.,
date when the current climate of the migrated population equals the future climate of the
outplanting site) (Fig. 4).
By introducing adapted plant materials, assisted migration has potential to promote
resilience to change and/or ease habitat transitions already occurring and realigning systems where resources are severely degraded or fragmented (Millar 2014). Assisted
migration is beginning to find its way into climate change adaptation plans (e.g., IPCC
2014) although consensus about its implementation is hampered by research and conservation challenges, existing management policies, uncertainty about future conditions, and
non-standardized terminology (Hewitt et al. 2011). Assisted migration terminology, like
that of restoration (see Stanturf et al. 2014a) becomes unwieldy because universalism in
definitions is trumped by historical use within various disciplines and creation of context-
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
TRANSLOCATION – any movement of a species from one location to another (Seddon 2010)
TRANSFER – human-mediated movement of tree germplasm, regardless of geographic scale
(Koskela et aL. 2014)
ASSISTED MIGRATION – expanding the range of species that are at risk of extinction by
climate change to new locations (McLachlan et al. 2007); human-aided translocation of species to areas
where climate is projected to become suitable to reduce the risk of extinction due to climate change (Mueller
and Hellmann 2008); purposeful movement of species to facilitate or mimic natural range expansion as a
direct management response to climate change (Vitt et al. 2010); human-assisted movement of species in
response to climate change (Ste-Marie et al. 2011)
ASSISTED COLONIZATION – moving species that are threatened with extinction by climate
change and ensuring establishment in their new locations (Hunter 2007); moving species to locations
outside their current and recent historic ranges (Hoegh-Guldberg et al. 2008); translocation of a species
beyond its natural range to protect it from human-induced threats (Seddon 2010)
MANAGED RELOCATION – intentional movement of organisms from current locations to
locations projected to have future suitable conditions for persistence in order to reduce the threat of climate
change, disappearing habitat, or biological invasions. (Richardson et al. 2009); conservation strat egy
involving the translocation of species to novel ecosystems in anticipation of range shifts forced by climate
change (Minteer and Collins 2010)
– intentional movement of populations (genotypes) within
a species-established range in response to climate
change (Johnston et al. 2010; Ste-Marie et al. 2011)
TRANSLOCATION – intentional reintroduction of a
species within its historic range (Griffith et al. 1989))
REENFORCEMENT – movement of individuals to
build up an existing population (IUCN 1987; Seddon
of forest tree populations within current range or within
range extensions to maintain forest productivity and
health (Pedlar et al. 2012)
– intentional
movement of
species to areas
just outside their
range in
response to
climate change,
facilitating or
natural range
(Johnston et al.
2010; Ste-Marie
et al. 2011)
REINTRODUCTION – intentional movement of an
organism into part of its native range from which it has
disappeared or become extirpated in historic times
(IUCN 1987)
ASSISTED GENE FLOW – intentional translocation
of individuals within a species range to facilitate
adaptation to anticipated local conditions (Aitken and
Whitlock 2013)
– (Pedlar et al.
– movement of species to
suitable locations outside
their current range in an
effort to save them from
extinction (Williams and
Dumroese 2013)
– intentional movement of
species to areas far
outside their established
range (beyond areas
accessible via natural
dispersal) in response to
climate change (Vitt et al.
2010; Ste-Marie et al.
2011; Winder et al. 2011)
– movement of species
far outside current natural
range to avoid extinction
by climate change (Pedlar
et al. 2012)
Fig. 2 The movement of plants has been defined many ways depending on context, from very broad to very
narrow applications. The terms ‘‘transfer’’ and ‘‘translocation’’ may be the broadest terms. ‘‘Assisted
migration,’’ ‘‘assisted colonization,’’ and ‘‘managed relocation’’ all essentially describe human movement of
plants in response to climate change. These three terms can be further subdivided into three additional
categories defined by the scale of movement: within the current range (i.e., assisted population migration
and similar terms), proximate the current range (i.e., assisted range expansion), and long-distance (i.e.,
assisted species migration and similar terms)
base descriptions (Fig. 2). Although no explicit solution exists for this, remaining mindful
to discuss assisted migration within the context of the restoration goal should support better
communication among scientists and among scientists, land managers, and the public.
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
Fig. 3 Seed migration can occur as assisted population migration in which seed sources are moved
climatically or geographically within their current ranges (shaded), even across seed transfer zones; e.g.,
moving Larix occidentalis 200 km north within its current range (a). Seed sources can also be moved
climatically or geographically from current ranges to suitable areas just outside the range to assist range
expansion, such as moving seed sources of Pinus ponderosa from British Columbia into Alberta, Canada
(b). For assisted species migration, species could be moved far outside current ranges to prevent extinction,
such as planting Torreya taxifolia in states north of Florida where it naturally occurs (c). (Terms from SteMarie et al. 2011; Winder et al. 2011; Williams and Dumroese 2013; maps adapted from Petrides and
Petrides 1998; Torreya Guardians 2015)
Seed sources will need to remain matched to the climates of the next decade or two in
order to ensure survival and growth. Such movements are within current management
practices for movements within seed zones in the U.S.; for example, average transfer
distances within Pseudotsuga menziesii seed zones in western Oregon and Washington are
2.2 °C (Kilkenny and St. Clair personal communication). Such short-scale movements
could be employed to buffer uncertainty regarding the amount of climate change in an area
by improving gene flow among populations through planting more diverse seed sources,
both within and among forest stands (O’Neill et al. 2008; St. Clair and Howe 2011),
realizing that an understanding of levels and distances of gene flow and the structure of
genetic variation across the landscape is necessary so that promoting future adaptation
through outplanting is balanced with potential loss of genetic variants and existing genetic
variation within nearby stands (St. Clair and Howe 2011; Aitken and Whitlock 2013).
Eventually, shifting climates may render current species or populations maladapted, as
predicted, for example, for Picea abies in the southwestern portion of its current European
range (Sykes and Prentice 1996) and for broadleaved species moving northward from
temperate European forests to the current boreal forests (Thuiller et al. 2006). This may
force managers to plant to increase genetic diversity and the adaptive potential of existing
forests (St. Clair and Howe 2011). These interplantings within the landscape matrix of
existing forest may be most efficiently established after management or natural stochastic
events. Depending on the level of maladaptation, outplanted seedlings could include a
mixture of local seed sources and non-local seed sources identified to be better adapted
under future climates (on-set of maladaptation) or entirely distant seed sources (wellmanifested maladaptation). Given the uncertainty of future climates, combinations of
current and future seed sources would provide a ‘‘no-regrets’’ approach (sensu Kates et al.
2012) for land managers; poor performers would be lost through natural selection or
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Fig. 4 Assisted migration can be performed along an elevation gradient. In this example, assisted migration
of Abies religiosa 275 m upwards in altitude may be necessary to mitigate changes in climate so that this
species can continue to provide its function as an overwintering host for Danaus plexippus. Adapted from
Sáenz-Romero et al. (2006)
silvicultural activities such as thinning. The challenge will be monitoring for maladaptation, defining a threshold for action, identifying the source of new materials, and obtaining
appropriate balance in deployed genetic resources.
The approval for testing and conducting assisted migration is likely to be case and
region specific. In Canada, assisted migration is being tested and considered for Abies
albicaulis (McLane and Aitken 2012) and Larix occidentalis (NRC 2013), both foundation
species of commercial importance and hosts to many other plants and animals. In southern
Mexico, it has been suggested that seed sources of Abies religiosa be moved 275 m
upwards in altitude in order that populations growing 15 years from now would still
experience today’s climate (Fig. 4) (Sáenz-Romero et al. 2012) and continue to provide
essential overwintering habitat for the charismatic, threatened, international migrant
Danaus plexippus (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Similar recommendations are being made
for Pinus oocarpa (Sáenz-Romero et al. 2006) and Pinus hartwegii (Viveros-Viveros et al.
2009) in Mexico and Central America. In the U.S., a citizen-driven initiative to save
Torreya taxifolia, a southeastern evergreen conifer, from extinction is by planting it well
north of its current and historic range (McLachlan et al. 2007; Barlow 2011).
Although early provenance tests were not designed to answer climate change questions
per se, they can be reassessed to more effectively deploy provenances on the landscape in
response to climate change (Isaac-Renton et al. 2014) and test new concepts, such as
central-peripheral gene flow, that may provide another tool for determining proper
movement of plant materials (Yang et al. 2015). Climate niche modeling that couples
genetic information from provenance tests and common garden studies with climate
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information in a GIS can be used to identify current and projected distributions (McLane
and Aitken 2012; Notaro et al. 2012; Isaac-Renton et al. 2014; Rehfeldt et al. 2014a).
Although modeled projections have some uncertainty in future climate predictions and are
limited to species for which we have genetic and/or occurrence data along with environmental and climatic information (Park and Talbot 2012), they provide an indication of how
climatic conditions will change for a particular site.
Assisted migration undoubtedly disrupts established understandings of natural resource
management and long-held views in conservation biology, therefore it must be implemented in a framework that assesses species and population vulnerability to climate
change, sets priorities, selects options and management targets, emphasizes long-term
monitoring, and adjusts as needed. Adoption requires land managers to balance species
conservation against risks posed by introduced species (Schwartz 1994), although this risk
may be overstated as few forestry tree species have become invasive (see Koskela et al.
2014). Assisted population migration and assisted range expansion are more likely scenarios than assisted species movement, and the risk of spreading pathogens from transferring seeds is relatively low compared to moving live plants (Pedlar et al. 2012; Santini
et al. 2013). Assisted migration should consider the critical, in situ preservation of adapted
species and populations at the trailing edges of changing ranges because, compared to
leading edge populations, they have unique features that were important for maintenance
of biodiversity during previous shifts in climate (Hampe and Petit 2005). Indeed, refugia
(i.e., phylogeographical hotspots), areas of ‘‘significant reservoirs of unique genetic
diversity favorable to the evolutionary process,’’ have already persisted through repeated
episodes of rapid and major environmental change (Médail and Diadema 2009). Although
not all current refugia remaining from the Last Glacial Maximum may serve as refugia
under contemporary climate change, their persistence on the landscape due to unique
circumstances and characteristics of past warming and cooling events makes their identification valuable (Keppel et al. 2012). Indeed, understanding the process likely to produce
refugia to contemporary climate change would be a powerful tool in preserving genetic
diversity (Keppel et al. 2012).
Biotechnology, a broad and controversial discipline in which biological resources are
used to develop products that serve a specific purpose or value, may help to maintain tree
species and populations and the functions they provide. In forestry, biotechnology can be
designed to meet the needs for a particular species, population, or landscape, for example,
to enhance forest regeneration by improving tree population performance (e.g., seedling
growth and wood production), conserve genetic resources (e.g., seed, gene, and DNA
banks), save foundation species from extinction (e.g., Pinus albicaulis), develop pestresistant seedlings (e.g., Cronartium ribicola resistance), increase adaptability (e.g., select
drought-tolerant seed sources), and identify suitable seed sources via molecular markers.
Although traditional breeding and use of biocontrol agents fit broadly into the bioengineering category, we will instead focus in the succeeding paragraphs on a few innovative
tools, discuss their potential for addressing tomorrow’s forests, and provide some
In situ and ex situ are two basic strategies for conserving forest genetic resources. In situ
conservation of ecosystems and habitats occurs in their natural settings (e.g., protected
areas and public and private lands) and ex situ conservation of components (seeds, vegetative materials, and genetic materials) happens outside of their habitat in seed collections
or banks (Engelmann 2012). Advances in ex situ technologies make it possible to isolate
and store DNA collected from nonviable seed lots and plant parts stored in herbaria and
store plant tissues, such as somatic embryos (asexual vegetative tissue) (Ford-Lloyd and
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
Jackson 1991). Slow-growth storage and cryopreservation technologies have opened the
door for conserving a variety of plant materials and tree species, including those that do not
produce seeds every year, vegetatively propagate, or require long-term storage (Ford-Lloyd
and Jackson 1991; Engelmann 2012). Cryopreservation, storage at ultra-low temperatures
(-196 °C with liquid nitrogen), may be the only conservation approach for long-term
storage of some forest tree species although genetic stability and viral contamination of
such materials are a concern (Engelmann 2012). Slow-growth storage and cryopreservation
of shoot cultures and buds are being tested for Sequoia sempervirens because it primarily
reproduces asexually through shoots and roots (Barbour et al. 2001) and the only existing
conserving strategies are in situ (Ozudogru et al. 2012). Cryopreservation also offers the
ability to store tissue cultures and clones grown from somatic embryos while testing is
performed for the selection of desired traits (e.g., growth and drought-tolerance). Such
operations have been established for the commercial testing and production of interior
spruce (Picea glauca 9 Picea engelmannii) in British Columbia (Grossnickle and Sutton
1999). Thus, cryopreservation offers opportunity to store germplasm until it can be used to
restore species. For example, in the case of the invasive Agrilus planipennis (Coleoptera:
Buprestidae) and its decimation of Fraxinus in North America, cryopreservation is
underway to conserve germplasm until sufficient resources become available for traditional
or transgenic breeding (see below), and/or biological control of A. planipennis becomes
Biotechnology offers options beyond traditional breeding methods for the conservation
and restoration of forest species and populations, such as the use of molecular markers and
genetic engineering. Genetic engineering involves the direct manipulation of an organism’s
genome, where its DNA has been modified to include a new trait (e.g., pest resistance).
Although not yet approved for commercial forest trees in the U.S. (or even conservation
and restoration use), genetic engineering techniques are being considered and tested.
Applications are under review by regulatory agencies for the release of frost-tolerant
Eucalyptus that can sustainably address society’s need for wood in southeastern U.S.
(Hinchee et al. 2011). Government approval, however, may first come only for species
threatened by pests and pathogens (Adams et al. 2002). Cisgenic (using genes from closely-related or same species) and transgenic (using genes from sexually incompatible
organisms) are viable options in a large-scale restoration program to create Castanea
dentata trees resistant to Cryphonectria parasitica (Jacobs et al. 2013). The reintroduction
of resistant C. dentata may help restore a variety of functions in eastern North American
forests absent since its demise, including large and consistent mast crops consumed by
humans and wildlife, durable, rot-resistant wood products, and unique decomposition and
nutrient cycling traits (see Jacobs et al. 2013). Scientists are using a myriad of complimentary tools including intra- and inter-species breeding for resistance, identification of
genes that provide resistance and using them to increase resistance in planting stock, and
employing new, large-scale genomic mapping techniques to identify resistance genes in the
Asian C. mollissima that can be introduced to C. dentata through traditional backcross
breeding techniques. Success has already been noted for a backcrossed resistant hybrid of
C. dentata (Bauman et al. 2014). Molecular techniques including the use of genetic
markers, mapping, and genomics have proven useful in understanding the epidemiology of
Cronartium ribicola in five-needled pines (e.g., P. albicaulis, P. flexilis, and P. monitcola)
(Richardson et al. 2010; Kim et al. 2011) and are an important part of the restoration
strategy that includes outplanting resistant seedlings (Keane and Schoettle 2011).
In light of increasing pressures on forest ecosystems, reliance on and advancement of ex
situ conservation strategies, molecular genetics, genomic studies, and genetically
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
engineered forest materials may increase. Indeed, for tree species and genera disappearing
from large extents of eastern North America (e.g., Juglans cinerea, Fraxinus spp., Persea
spp.) or narrowly-distributed, critically-endangered species in Australia (e.g., Eucalyptus
recurva and Lambertia fairallii), effects of introduced pests may render biotechnology as
the only viable method for preserving these species and the ecosystem functions they
provide. It is unlikely, however, that biotechnological tools will completely replace traditional silvicultural techniques, breeding methods, and conservation strategies in forest
management. For example, for Pseudotsuga menziesii populations in Mexico that are
projected to face unfavorable climate conditions for growth by 2060 (Rehfeldt et al.
2014a), long-term conservation options, such as slow-growth storage and cryopreservation
might be options, but efforts to protect refugia, locate suitable growing sites and seed
sources, and collect and store genetic resources should also be in place (Rehfeldt et al.
An illustration
Fraxinus nigra can be used to illustrate how these three considerations may be used in a
forest management scenario. This species grows in the northern portions of the eastern and
central U.S. and southeastern portions of Canada (Wright and Rauscher 1990). Currently,
North American Fraxinus are threatened by Agrilus planipennis (Colepoptera: Buprestidae). So, how might functional restoration, assisted migration, and biotechnology be discussed, individually and in concert, as part of a strategy to maintain the function of forests
in which F. nigra is an important member?
In addition to timber products, two important functions provided by F. nigra are its role
in regulating the hydrology of wetland forests (see Slesak et al. 2014) and its use in
basketry by indigenous people (Diamond and Emery 2011). Use of traditional silvicultural
practices to maintain function, such as group selection followed by artificial regeneration
of other species native to those sites, would increase site biodiversity and subsequent
resilience to ensure hydrological function. During treatment, silvicultural practices that
maintain sustainable development of size classes and form desired by indigenous people
for their basket making craft would have merit as well. Silvicultural treatments would be
monitored and assessed for success.
Although a good first step, the success of the above application of functional restoration
might be enhanced by combining it with assisted migration. When engaging in artificial
regeneration, species and seed sources anticipated to be adapted to future climate scenarios
would be deployed; this could be either population migration and/or assisted range
expansion. More southerly seed sources of species already occurring with F. nigra, such as
Acer rubrum, Betula alleghaniensis, Populus tremuloides, and Ulmus spp. (Iverson et al.
2011), could be moved northward in anticipation of future climate (i.e., population
migration) and species, such as Liquidambar styraciflua or Taxodium distichum, not
growing in the current range of F. nigra might similarly be moved from the northern limits
of their current range and introduced into the southern portions of the range of F. nigra to
help fulfil the hydrological role of F. nigra (i.e., assisted range expansion). Unfortunately,
none of these species augment or replace the function of F. nigra as a source of traditional
basket material.
Despite the best efforts of functional restoration and assisted migration, the rapid
expansion of A. planipennis and nearly complete decimation of Fraxinus in invaded stands
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
indicate it would be prudent to immediately collect and store seeds of diverse populations
across the range of F. nigra, especially from individual trees showing potential tolerance or
resistance (Simpson 2010). This material could be used now, once biocontrol agents
become widespread and efficacious, and/or for traditional or transgenic breeding for
A. planipennis resistance. The scope of such breeding would be dependent on stakeholder
priorities, societal and legal acceptance of GMOs (in the case of transgenic work with
resistant Chinese Fraxinus (Rebek et al. 2008) or cisgenic work with Bacillus thuringiensis
(Pijut et al. 2010)), available funding, and/or the success of deployed biological control
agents (another form of biotechnology) to reduce A. planipennis effects. Resistant material
could eventually be deployed to the landscape via functional restoration, perhaps with the
movement of southerly sources northward to account for changes in climate (assisted
population migration) or northerly sources moved further north into new suitable habitat
(assisted range expansion). Together, functional restoration, assisted migration, and
biotechnology may offer a more holistic approach to forest management.
Context is important
The appropriate use of functional restoration, assisted migration, biotechnology, and their
combinations must be determined within a relevant context. Concerns about invasive
species, lack of research, ecological risks, community support, and uncertainty in climate
models and with forest tree plasticity in response to climate are not unique to any one
approach; all of them have advantages and disadvantages (Table 1), but their relevance,
suitability, and applicability should be evaluated within the context of the restoration goal.
Our best available tools may not guard against future pests or be of use in novel conditions,
and the risk of creating an invasive species through restoration efforts, assisted migration,
or reintroduction of native species may occur. The risk of invasion, however, is subject to
debate because the definition itself depends upon human perception (Mueller and Hellmann 2008). Some degree of ‘‘invasiveness’’ in an assisted migration effort might be
necessary for establishment. Further, the ‘‘nativity’’ of replacement species or germplasm
will become increasingly blurred given that the current definition can be vague and
dependent on many factors (see Smith and Winslow 2001), including distance from its
home range. Therefore, future working definitions of ‘‘native’’ will need to be ‘‘scientifically grounded, dynamic, flexible, project specific, realistic,’’ and, we add, contextual
(Shackelford et al. 2013; Stanturf et al. 2014a).
The complex, multi-faceted decisions on how land managers tend tomorrow’s forests
will ultimately be driven by societal values (Ciccarese et al. 2012; Stanturf et al. 2014a).
Citizens can be reluctant to accept management strategies involving the manipulation of
plant materials through breeding programs, using nonlocal seed sources, genetic modification, and moving seeds outside a species’ range (Hajjar et al. 2014). Further, the current
willingness of forestland managers to employ climate change adaptation strategies is
contingent upon their confidence that climate change is anthropogenic (Lenart and Jones
2014). Land managers who agree are more likely to undertake less traditional silvicultural
aspects of functional restoration (e.g., functional species composition versus legacy species
composition) and, for any aspect of assisted migration, they are only somewhat confident
in knowing what specific actions to take. For widespread application of any new approach
to silviculture in response to climate change, scientists will need to provide managers more
definitive, contextually-based evidence of potential benefits and risks (Lenart and Jones
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
Table 1 Some general advantages and disadvantages of functional restoration, assisted migration, and
Focuses on desired functions provided by
Applicable across all levels of degradation
Relies mainly on established silvicultural
May more realistically align societal goals
with resources available for restoration
Applicable across multiple scales and in
combinations with other management
options, such as assisted migration and
Mandates public involvement in decision
Reference condition or legacy
characteristics may not be final goal
Potential poor public perception when
species introductions are needed to
achieve function
Potential conflicts/disagreements among the
public in defining desired functions
Assisted population migration can be
implemented as part of current artificial
reforestation programs; relatively low
cost; low risk of unintended
consequences; no drastic changes to
contemporary forest composition
Assisted range expansion can replace
declining species due to climate change
with different species anticipated to have
better adaptation that are already
Assisted species migration may be only
viable method to prevent species
extinction; historical long-distance
transfers of trees have provided
significant increases in productivity
Rapid changes in climate may negate short
distance migration efforts
Uncertainty about future climate hampers
determining target migration distances;
potential unintended consequences to
recipient ecosystem, such as adverse
effects on other species in the receiving
Will require significant changes to policy,
law, perception before implementation
Traditional breeding a proven technique;
low risk of unintended consequences;
often multiple genes in play
Transgenic breeding may significantly
reduce time to produce improved
material; could work on multiple stressors
Cisgenic breeding may significantly reduce
time to produce improved material; could
work on multiple stressors concurrently;
potential to modify species for traits not
currently residing in them, such as
tolerance to drought, salts, herbicides, and
May take decades because of slow
reproduction of trees
Poor public perception of genetically
modified organisms; trans- and cis-genic
trees may have less resilience than
traditionally bred trees because fewer
genes may be involved
Cryopreservation may not work for all
species of concern
2014); this most likely applies to functional restoration and biotechnology as well. So,
while our considerations may be viable options for conserving and restoring some forest
tree species and populations, it may be difficult to implement any program without first
improving technology transfer, increasing dialogue, and determining which societal values
and services forests are to be managed for (Friedman and Foster 1997). After learning more
about management strategies and options, the public may be more amendable to alternatives (Hajjar et al. 2014).
New Forests (2015) 46:947–964
Acknowledgments We thank the Science Committee for the International Union of Forest Research
Organizations symposium, Restoring Forests: What Constitutes Success in the 21st Century?, for the
opportunity to present our work and for the invitation to submit a manuscript for this special issue; Brian J.
Palik, Associate Editor Andreas Bolte, and four anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments on earlier
drafts; Jim Marin for preparing the graphics; and Cuauhtémoc Saenz-Romero for review of Fig. 4. The
views expressed are strictly those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the positions or policy of
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Considerations for restoring temperate forests of tomorrow: forest restoration, assisted migration,